When the People Move, the Music Moves Too Meklit Six Degrees Records So It Is Preservation Hall Jazz Band Legacy/Sony The supercharged horns of New Orleans’ regenerated Preservation Hall Jazz Band may ignite standout tracks on When the People Move, the Music Moves Too and So It Is, but both releases draw primary power from offshore influences. These luminous new American albums respectively plug into the electricity and ethnicity of Ethiopian and Cuban music. Both are entirely logical and unsurprising associations.
Ethiopian by birth but long-time US-based singer and composer Meklit Hadero’s latest waxing is laced with the mesmerising modes of her ancestry, which are perfectly articulated by the brass section of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band on prime cuts. The influence of so-called Ethio jazz — technically the diminished 12-tone scale that gives the music its distinctive swirling sound — shimmers behind and between several of the TED senior lecturer’s insightful and humanitarian-minded songs.
So It Is, the umpteenth album from the venerable Preservation Hall Jazz Band, a longstanding institution in New Orleans’ French Quarter, draws on Cuban dance music — the legacy of a “life-changing” tour of America’s Caribbean island neighbour in 2015 that has edged the ensemble away from its trad jazz base. Blessed with an impressively expressive and mellifluous voice that evokes Nina Simone and other soul and jazz divas, Meklit has a chameleonic capacity to shapeshift. She’s most visceral during an inspired reworking of You Got Me that transports the Roots-Erykah Badu late 1990s hit to 70s Addis Ababa as the Preservation Hall horns emulate classic Ethio-jazz playing.
Plucking traditional krar lyre over a drone, Meklit imbues Memories of the Future with rural northeast African ambience. Birthday Song morphs from Ethiopian to Dixieland in flavour, courtesy of a tail-end jam between the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s soprano saxophonist, trumpeter and tuba player. In I Want to Sing for Them All, accompanied by Andrew Bird’s jazzy violin and an Ethio-jazz riff, Meklit name-checks some of her Ethiopian and American music heroes, such as Mulatu Astatke, Aster Aweke, Prince and John Coltrane.
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s Cuban connection is overtly prevalent in the scorching Afro-Latin grooves and blazing trumpet and bravura trombone soloing that fire up La Malanga and Santiago — the undoubted highlights of So It Is.
Sassy Cuban-esque horn lines counterbalance a more spiritually driven keyboard component in Innocence. Although it opens as a funereal shuffle (albeit one punctuated by bursts of funky Hammond organ), One Hundred Fires transmogrifies into more upbeat traditional Mardi Gras terrain.
New Orleans second line drumming in cahoots with Louisianan piano rolls provides the pulse for the blues and gospel-charged Convergence. Exuberant chanting of lines such as “Makes no difference what you do / I ain’t mad at you” and handclapping invest sign-off track Mad with manic energy.